Do You Know About the Amazing Life of This Great Mystic Saint?
Of all the devotions that have been developed in the Catholic Church over the centuries, there are very few that have received such strong recommendations from so many popes as the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this devotion we can thank Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, whose feast day we celebrate on April 28. In examining Saint Louis’ life, we can see that his experiences were a great source of the richness of his spirituality.
Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort was born in 1673 in the French commune of Montfort-Sur-Meu to Jean-Baptiste and Jeanne Grignon. From an early age, Louis displayed a strong spirituality and great devotion to prayer. At twelve years old, he was enrolled in the Jesuit College of Saint Thomas Becket, where he studied philosophy and theology. While at the college, Louis listened to the sermons of the Abbé Julien Bellier, which inspired him to preach missions to the poor. Around this time, under the tutelage of a number of priests whom he knew, Louis also began a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1693 Louis was invited to study at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris, where eventually he was given the assignment of librarian. This post allowed him access to many great works of spirituality, and ample time to read them. As a result, Louis greatly developed his devotion to Mary during this time, and began to foster an appreciation for the guardian angels.
Ordination and Missionary Work
In June of 1700 Louis was ordained a priest, and despite his desire to become a missionary in the French colony of Canada, he was assigned to the city of Nantes in western France. However, his desire to be a missionary was unabating. He even went to St. Peter’s in Rome to confer with Pope Clement XI over how he should spent his life. The Holy Father told Louis that he ought to remain in his native France and be a missionary there. Louis accepted the Pope’s counsel that missionary activity in far-flung places such as North America was not God’s calling for him, and so he returned to France with renewed vigor for spreading the faith among his own countrymen.
Louis became a Third Order Dominican and in 1705 formed the Company of Mary, an association of priests and brothers devoted to preaching missions both in France and abroad. As the years went on, Louis traveled up and down France, preaching missions. During these years, in addition to preaching and writing books, Louis also composed hundreds of poems and songs, many of which were meant to be sung in churches or in homes. Often, these verses were either inspired by the beauty of a shrine or a spiritual insight, or were more grounded in teaching and educating their listeners on matters of religion and piety.
During his years preaching missions, Louis met a woman named Marie Louise Trichet, with whom he founded the Daughters of Wisdom, an order of religious sisters who tended to the poor. After meeting Louis and founding this order with him, Marie would spend the remainder of her life serving the poor, until her death in 1759. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993.
In 1716 Louis traveled to Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, a commune in the French Vendée, to preach a parish mission. Perhaps due to ill health brought about by being poisoned by his enemies, Louis fell ill during the mission, and died on April 28 at the age of 43. His funeral was attended by thousands who had heard him preach and had been touched by his words. Reports of miracles at his tomb began to circulate soon after his death.
It was in his later years that Louis wrote many of the works for which he would become famous. His books such as True Devotion to Mary, The Secret of the Rosary, and The Secret of Mary featured his unique developments of Marian consecration, and would serve as a blueprint for future saints and spiritual writers throughout the centuries, in their preaching of the importance of devotion to Mary.
Louis’ emphasis on Mary was not meant to detract from devotion and adoration due to God alone. Instead, he saw devotion to Mary as a pathway towards greater union with God. Being the one creature most in conformity with God’s Will, Mary is the ideal exemplar for us to pattern our lives after. Pope Saint John Paul II, perhaps the most famous advocate of Marian consecration, did not see devotion to Mary as conflicting or clashing with love for God. In his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope he said, “Thanks to St. Louis de Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption.”
By consecrating ourselves to Mary, and practicing devotions such as the Rosary, during which we meditate on the events of Christ’s life, we get a close-up view of His humanity through a unique point of view. No other human being knew Jesus the way that Mary did. She was with Him every moment of His life up until the beginning of His public ministry. Even after He began preaching and teaching, Mary was never far away, since she is mentioned throughout the Gospels during Christ’s public ministry. Moreover, she was the only human being whose will was always conformed to God’s. Being conceived without original sin, Mary never swerved from perfect obedience and love of God and His holy Will. She was always in harmony with whatever God wanted from her. This is exemplified in her response to the angel Gabriel: “May it be done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38). The advice she gives to humanity is a reflection of her own obedience, when during the wedding at Cana she tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” (John 2:5).
St. Louis de Montfort understood Mary’s unique role in salvation history, and so he saw her as a special gateway into God’s grace, as God’s gift to humanity. His devotion of consecration to Mary has proven to be an invaluable gift to the Church, and has earned the praises of numerous popes, including Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X, Pius XI, John Paul II and Pius XII, the latter of whom canonized Louis de Montfort in 1947. Pope John Paul the Great even took as his papal motto “Totus tuus,” Latin for “totally yours,” in reference to his deep and abiding love for Mary.
The impact that St. Louis de Montfort had on Catholic spirituality cannot be overstated. His explication of the importance of devotion to Mary, coupled with his development of the practice of consecration to her, has provided countless souls with a reliable and workable method for achieving personal sanctity, regardless of one’s state in life. We owe God our thanks for the graces He poured out on this great saint, and we ought to pray for St. Louis' intercession as we strive to gain a greater appreciation for Mary, and draw ever closer to her Son. Let us ask her, God’s mother and our mother, for the assistance that we know she can give us in living holy lives and being the kind of people God wants us to be.
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Header Image: Stained glass of Saint Louis de Montfort | G. Freihalter